Same strategy and message, but very different advertising

—New campaign for Virgin successor Avanti shows how much advertising is about reinventing the wheel over and over again, says Craig Redmond—

I’ve always loved the Virgin brand. Yes, Sir Richard can be a bit of a knob, as evidenced most recently by his anti-gravity pissing match with fellow bombastic billionaire Jeff Bezos.

But Branson has built one of the most iconic brands in human history over the past 50 years, proving—probably more successfully than anyone—that invincible brand power equates to inevitable business glory.

I think what endears us most to his Virgin brand empire is that it’s always taken the piss out of the pomposity of the industries it has unwelcomely crashed. Renaming business class on its airplanes to “upper class,”  for example, typifies that anti-establishment, tongue-in-cheek cheek.

The company expanded and seemingly pushed into every conceivable category. But when Virgin engaged in the British Rail selloff in the late ‘90s, many wondered if it had finally trespassed over one too many boundaries. The venture was fraught with government privatization peril, and rank with antiquated bureaucracy, union unrest, bloated pension plans, and unanimous public disdain and distrust.

Nevertheless, in 1997 Virgin Trains began connecting Britain from London up to Edinburgh with its InterCity West Coast service. It not only survived, but flourished by winning loyal ridership with its typical marketing magic and great customer service.

But alas, after a great 22-year run, Virgin Trains tooted its last whistle just ahead of the pandemic. Virgin’s contract was not renewed following a dispute over one of those nagging pension legacies.

And the famous railway line that serves more than 18 million Britons was taken over at the end of 2019 by a new franchise alliance called Avanti West Coast.

All of this came steaming back to my frontal lobe like a locomotive after seeing the first advertising from Avanti, then remembering the very last ads for Virgin just before its demise.

And I was reminded, once more, just how much of what we do in this business is about reinventing the wheel over and over again.

Because these two choo-choo ads are the same proverbial wheel.

They serve up an identical strategy of convenience, comfort, and speed. They deliver that message with precisely the same familial wit and charm. And they even both introduce their train brand with the exact same, magic tunnel reveal at the end.

But they couldn’t be any more different.

Thusly, the story of InterCity West Coast, reinvented. Last stop, Virgin. All aboard Avanti.